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'Benoit' documentary a compelling look at a complicated subject

It’s been nearly 13 years since Chris Benoit and his family were found dead were in their Fayetteville, Georgia, home. While 13 years can be a lifetime to some, to the people close to the whole sordid situation, 13 years might as well be 13 minutes.

That’s why the creators Vice ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ documentary series had the equivalent of a live hand grenade in their hands with 'Benoit' to kick off their second season. Skew too positive and appear insensitive to the victims left behind. Skew too negative and you miss the opportunity to get into some of the overlooked aspects of the story.

To their credit, they stuck the landing on both aspects, building a story of how beloved the Canadian star was to friends and family, why that made this turn of events so shocking, and how the aforementioned friends and family -- and even fans -- have had to juggle their feelings given the tragic turn of events.

For those who watched all of season one and have heard interviews with the creators, it’s clear season two was the ideal time to tackle this story. Because of how well received that first round was, that undoubtedly bought them some cache with talents that might have otherwise not talked to them for a subject like this.

That cache enabled them to get nearly everyone you would want to hear from including Nancy Toffoloni’s sister, Chris’ surviving son David (his resemblance to Chris when you first see him is arresting), Chris Jericho, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Vicky Guerrero, Dean and Julie Malenko, Jim Ross, the detective who found the bodies, and others. The interviews combined with the family footage and images is tremendous and heartbreaking at the same time.

The bulk of the first hour focuses on who Benoit was and what drove him to become one of the best wrestlers in the world. Intertwined with that is the story of Nancy, aka Fallen Angel aka Woman. We learn how she gets into the business, how her work with Kevin Sullivan helped bring her to the forefront, and the complications that were to come with her, Sullivan, and Benoit.

Benoit beginning to work with Eddie Guerrero in Japan shapes the rest of the documentary and is portrayed as a trigger point for what began Benoit’s decline. All these years later, I didn’t realize just how tight their friendship was, first born out of Benoit’s initial dislike of Guerrero. Their families became friends and they eventually became inseparable. In painstaking detail, we taken through Guerrero's sudden death, how it crushed Benoit, and examples of how he never truly recovered to the point of laying in the Guerreros’ bed and weeping.

The second half of the documentary focuses on the decline, the eventual double murder/suicide, and the aftermath which hits on two topics that I find fascinating.

The first was how WWE handled the blowback from mainstream media who were all over the story and then some. They go over the erasing of Benoit from their history, the infamous tribute show, the wellness policy loopholes, their claims steroids weren’t an issue, and how David and Nancy's sister Sandra were essentially abandoned by the company after the tragedy.

The second was the complicated legacy of Benoit today including the aforementioned erasure. David talks about the struggles with growing up and still seeing his father as a hero despite what he did. His friends talk about remembering what a good and loyal friend Benoit but struggling with how to cope with what he did. Jericho, in particular, brings up how the wrestling business was nearly ruined by this story and how that would have crushed Benoit to know that given how much he loved the business. 

Then, there’s the ending. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it but for those closely following the story, it’s truly a moment and a very good one at that.

For some, ‘Benoit’ will be a tough watch but it remains one of the Dark Side crew’s strongest works to date. While there are some complaints about certain people they didn’t talk to and some of the details that weren’t covered, it was a compelling and well put together effort considering the topic and is a great kickoff to their second season.

If you don’t have Vice TV, part 1 and part 2 are available for free on their YouTube channel. I'd also recommend checking out recent editions of Wrestling Observer Radio where Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez answer questions in detail about the documentary and that time in their lives.